Two Specialized Migration Programs, One Much Better than the Other

By David North on October 16, 2015

Last month I wrote about the four immigration programs that were set to expire on September 30 with the end of the fiscal year. Congress passed a Continuing Resolution extending most spending programs, including these four, until December 11. But two of the immigration programs caught my eye and I started comparing them.

These are the relatively well-known EB-5 program, which sells a set of green cards to alien families investing half a million dollars in DHS-approved, but not guaranteed investments, usually in urban real estate, and the more obscure Conrad-30 program, which brings foreign physicians to under-served (i.e., poverty-stricken) parts of the country. (I should add that it is only the heart of the EB-5 program that runs out soon, this is the provision that allows the use of estimated indirect creation of jobs to fulfill the requirement that 10 jobs must result from each investment.)

The two programs are remarkably unequal to each other. One involves admitting a small number of highly useful immigrants and the other accepts much larger numbers of aliens whose only skill is in the possession of lots of money. Here's a quick summary of the two programs:

A Thumbnail Comparison of Two Specialized Immigration Programs
EB-5 (immigrant investors)
Conrad-30 (Physicians)
Direct Beneficiaries Rich aliens Aliens with medical training
Their Skills Levels A mix, no skills needed to get the visa, only money Many years of advanced education
Indirect Beneficiaries Rich American middlemen; some construction workers The medically under-served in urban and rural areas
Location of Benefits Mostly prosperous parts of big cities Mostly areas of urban or rural poverty
Visas per Year 10,000 About 1,900 in 2012
Levels of Controversy Substantial charges of corruption
at multiple points within the system; much press coverage, Fortune, ABC-TV, NY Times
Some problems reported, mostly wages and working conditions for the physicians; we have seen no coverage of them in the press

Source: Center for Immigration Studies, Washington, D.C.
Note: The numbers shown above are approximate and deal with both the principal beneficiaries (investors or physicians) and their spouses and children.

You can see why I think the Conrad-30 program is better for the country than EB-5.

The Conrad-30 program is named for former Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and it permits the admission in temporary legal status of up to 30 usually U.S.-trained alien physicians in each state each year if they are destined to work in low-income areas. Should they serve out their three-year term in the designated areas, the docs and their families can apply for permanent resident alien status.

More specifically, the Conrad-30 program takes a physician in J-1 (exchange visitor) status and then converts that to an H-1B status. It is from that status that the physician can become a permanent resident alien. In other circumstances, people in J-1 status cannot adjust to PRA status unless they have spent a two-year period in their home country. Conrad-30 absolves them of that requirement.

The federal government does not seem to issue any statistics on this program, but an immigration law firm, Klasko, has obtained data from some source and has published a state-by-state survey on the use of the program in 2012. In that year, the big majority of the states responding to the survey said that they had sponsored a total of 734 physicians. My estimate of 1,900 visas used in the table above assumes that for each doc there will be about 1.5 family members.

I do not know as much about the Conrad-30 program as I do about the EB-5 arrangement, but the program seems to be much, much less likely to create controversy than the one involving immigrant investors. After much Googling I found an article in Health Affairs that dealt with Conrad-30 and reported that sometimes the physicians (who are short-term foreign workers after all) were not paid very well and sometimes worked in substandard conditions. This is, sadly, just about inevitable.

I think I saw something years ago about a Conrad-30 physician who moved into a prosperous urban practice despite the rules of the program, which seem to be (and this is par for the course) lightly enforced.

Another sad fact is that the useful Conrad-30 program and the scandal-ridden EB-5 program were both extended by Congress in the same legislative vehicle, the continuing resolution scheduled to expire on December 11.